Three words are muttered on social media in sorrow and tragedy more than any others: Thoughts and Prayers. You see it all the time. Someone posts on social media that he/she/they are battling cancer and the comment section is filled up quickly with a bevy of, “thoughts and prayers.” School shootings are famous for it. “I just want to extend my deepest ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims of <insert this week’s senseless school shooting>. It’s the easiest way of not having to do anything and yet be recognized as someone who is supporting the cause. I am as guilty as anyone I accuse. If you go through my feed, you will see countless “thoughts and prayers” I’ve offered people, with little action behind it. In my quest to make my environment more empathetic to people, my actions need to change.
My family’s life changed in August of 2019. Jacob was diagnosed with cancer and the invincibility we felt as a family crumbled like a house of cards. Within moments of people finding out about Jacob’s condition, our texts, platforms, and voicemail were filled with thoughts and prayers. And they were heartfelt. Many of us don’t know what else to do. How can you? A 19-year-old getting cancer is nonsensical. We want to do more but we feel handcuffed by the situation. Many people did more than pray. People set up food for us and sent us books. Others, donated time to sit with us. In the past year, I’ve had amazing people help us set up a charity and prepare a race.
Last year, my friend Jon did something crazy. He didn’t offer me a thought or a prayer. He sent me an email, followed by a call. Jacob passed away six months prior. Our family was struggling to make sense of his death. We were trying to get out of bed every day. The bar was set low. Jon had a brilliant idea. “How would you like to do a reading of Our Town? There’s a role that would be perfect for you.” Jon and I knew one another from high school but didn’t run with the same crew. He hung with the “theatre crowd” while my friends were a mixture of everyone. We would see each other at the rink often, as I coached, and his son played. We have always enjoyed the other’s company.
The request for my acting came completely out of the blue. I have loved plays ever since my friend, John Sloan, made me come see his musical DBPLSRRU. I met a gal who, as it turns out, is a decent singer. I became entrenched in the arts. That is, as an observer. People, in passing, have always told me to do something with it. I did. In the early 2000’s I decided to audition for a play. Dobama Theatre was temporarily using a CSU’s facility. I showed up with a semi-rehearsed monologue with an attitude that my personally would shine. I watched the men before me. One after the next, perfectly polished, and professional. It was my turn. I walked onto the stage and stood a few feet from the “X”. My first mistake. The casting director told me to Stand on the mark. Then, my monologue. The first two words came out with a problem. Then, stage fright set. The words never came out. I walked off stage and didn’t return. The dream was over.
So, in 2021, when Jon made this offer, I needed redemption. It was far more than that. I practiced my piece daily. Jon and I would have little mini rehearsals. Although I was allowed to be on book, I wanted to set myself apart and “know” my character. The show went perfectly. What I gained transcended the writing. I met people and reunited with people I once knew. I was part of something bigger. The creative process of a few projects for which I’m now working, started the day Jon asked me to do this “thing.”
For the next “tragedy”, I hope I can offer more than “thoughts and prayers.” I hope I can engage in some way that is truly helpful. Jon Leiken has saved my life. This isn’t hyperbole. Unless you’ve been through the loss of a child, you cannot possibly understand our pain. The extent of our pain isn’t even measurable by a single word. But it comes down to empathy. Jon knew thoughts and prayers, without action would be futile. Acting has given me a joy that is indescribable. I challenge myself and reading community to reach out and touch someone’s life. Our presence is needed more than ever. Lend an ear. Take a meal. Give a hug. Our presence is the present.